"Bear in mind that the wonderful things you learn in your schools are the work of many generations, produced by enthusiastic effort and infinite labor in every country of the world. All this is put into your hands as your inheritance in order that you may receive it, honor it, add to it, and one day faithfully hand it to your children. Thus do we mortals achieve immortality in the permanent things which we create in common." - Albert Einstein

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Medium of Instruction and Science Learning

Apparently in Chinese, a single word can be used to convey either "heat" or hot":

This obviously could be confusing to a high school student who is trying to learn fundamental physics in Chinese. Science learning does require much more than just grasping concepts. Science requires a certain precision in academic language. Even in English, force and power may seem interchangeable in everyday conversations, but in physics, these two correspond to two distinct quantities. Hence, the question of how the medium of instruction affects science learning is an important issue to address especially now that most learning resources for the sciences are in English.

A paper scheduled to be published in the Journal of Research in Science Teaching tackles this question by performing a quasi-experimental study in a secondary school in Hong Kong. Participants (about 200 students) come from working class families. For about half of the students, the highest educational attainment of the parents is junior high school (9 years of basic education). All of the students in the study use Mandarin as the language at home. Since Chinese is the medium of instruction in junior high school, the students have been exposed to English only when taking the English subject. In the study, about half of the students is enrolled in a physics class where English is the medium of instruction (EMI) while the other half is placed in a class where Chinese is the medium of instruction (CMI). The following is the abstract of the paper:

Albeit the authors seem to emphasize that Chinese seems to be a better medium of instruction in enabling low-ability students, this appears to apply only on one of the topics covered, forces. When it comes to heat or thermal concepts, the results do not really support this conclusion:
Above copied from
Fung, D. and Yip, V. (2014), The effects of the medium of instruction in certificate-level physics on achievement and motivation to learn. J. Res. Sci. Teach.. doi: 10.1002/tea.21174
In the above figure CMI corresponds to Chinese as medium of instruction while EMI corresponds to English. Since a pre-test is provided, the students can be initially grouped according to initial ability at the end of junior high school (where only the general sciences have been covered with everyone using Chinese as the medium of instruction). Clearly, as the authors have also presented in the paper, when differences are examined, EMI provides higher improvement for both "middle" and "high-ability" students, and there is really no difference between CMI and EMI with regard to students who perform poorly in the pre-test:
Above copied from 
Fung, D. and Yip, V. (2014), The effects of the medium of instruction in certificate-level physics on achievement and motivation to learn. J. Res. Sci. Teach.. doi: 10.1002/tea.21174
The above results are indeed telling. More importantly, an interview has also been performed by Fung and Yip, and one specific issue that comes out is a question often raised by students who are in the physics class that uses Chinese as medium of instruction. It is in fact more of a comment than a question: How will they perform in college where physics is exclusively taught in English? It is an appropriate question to ask. Unfortunately, their answer perhaps is to dismiss simply physics as a future course to take.

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Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Online Versus Face to Face

One can read a chemistry textbook from cover to cover. How much one would learn by doing so depends on one's motivation, the ability to comprehend, and the capacity to commit information to long term memory. Of course, the same factors are in play when trying to learn chemistry from an instructor. The important question is whether face-to-face interactions, what traditional classrooms offer, really makes a difference. This question is addressed in part by a study recently published in the Journal of Research in Science Teaching:

This study looks specifically at the difference between online and face-to-face collaborative learning among students in a public middle school (grade 8) in central Virginia. The online platform used in the study, Edmodo, allows students in the experimental group to work on their collaborative assignments, which include reading files, answering online quizzes, and participating in discussion threads.
To learn more about Edmodo, please visit this link

The control group does all of the above as well, but inside the classroom, face-to-face. The assignments are identical and both groups of students receive instruction on the materials covered by the assignments. Thus, the only difference is how the students perform their assignments, face-to-face versus online. To assess the students, the MOSART exam (Harvard College, 2011), a test that measures understanding of key scientific concepts, has been utilized:

Above is a screen capture of the Mosart site.
The results are unequivocal. Students from the online class perform poorly compared to the students who are in the face-to-face class:

Above copied from
Wendt, J. L. and Rockinson-Szapkiw, A. (2014), The effect of online collaboration on middle school student science misconceptions as an aspect of science literacy. J. Res. Sci. Teach., 51: 1103–1118. doi: 10.1002/tea.21169
In fact, the experimental group performed a bit better in the pretest, suggesting that students even developed misconceptions during the online activities. One main reason suggested by the researchers behind the poor performance of students assigned to the online activities is the asynchronous nature of online discussions. One does not receive immediate feedback, body language and thus, misunderstanding as well as development of misconceptions can easily occur.

One important lesson that should be learned from the above study is that the mere use of technology in the classroom does not necessarily translate to improvements in learning. Some activities like collaborative learning are much better facilitated face-to-face. The results of the above study certainly supports the notion that the DepEd's new K+12 curriculum is truly wrong-headed:

DepEd should realize that collaboration does not require technology. It actually happens a lot easier face-to-face. And it is cheaper to do this inside a classroom.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Can DepEd Deliver Anything on Time?

by Joy Rizal

It seems the ONLY things that DepEd has the ability to keep and insure will happen on time, according to schedule, are breaks and holidays.

According to the official DepEd Schedule (DO_s2014_18), last Thursday and Friday, October 16-17, 2014 were supposed to be the dates that second quarter exams would be given,with the week of October 20-24 as mid term assessment and INSET as well as a semester break for students. Report cards are to be given at a parent teacher conference on Saturday Oct 25, 2014. 


"The teachers made their assessment of the Aquino administration’s performance through a “Progress Report Card” using the K-12 grading system in several ‘key result areas’ or actions that were expected from the administration which include the increase in the salaries and benefits of teachers, sufficient education budget, fund allocation for K-12 program and patriotic education. The president got a failing grade B (for beginning), in all of those aspects and was advised to provide the needs of the education sector in his remaining years in office."

That all sounds well and good, EXCEPT for the fact DepEd living up to its standard level of incompetence, has not seen a need to bother creating, or at least not seen a need to bother distributing, the exams for the schools to use.   Not even a single copy of the exams for the schools (at least not for the elementary schools in our area) to replicate.  

This of course would make distributing (honest) report cards at the parent teacher conference (which will most likely be canceled) impossible.

It is no wonder we STILL do not have the promised textbooks for all our children. The Philippine Department of Education cannot even distribute a set of Exams that consists of less than 50 pages per grade level before the required dates.  It seems the ONLY things that DepEd has the ability to keep and insure will happen on time, according to schedule, are breaks and holidays.

I have always believed that the best way to teach is by example.  Sadly the example that DepEd and oversight committees are teaching our children is that work schedules, deadlines, ethics and promises mean nothing. They teach that incompetence and excuses are ok for people that are in charge and that leaders seem to rarely be held accountable for even the most grievous atrocities.   At the same time, our children are condemned by not receiving a decent education and are held accountable both with poor grades (it is difficult to study when there is no material to study) as well as later in life by only being able to get low level manual “grunt” jobs.

Our country is held accountable by the fact that DepEd and our elected officials (who are supposed to at least pretend to be trying to better our country) are condemning generation after generation of children that do not even have the basic skills needed to compete in today’s world.   These officials have also been teaching our children for their entire school life that corruption is to be accepted and that people in the working world do not need to worry about doing a good quality job with anything.

Look around at how many times a year does the same sections of road need to be repaired rather than fixing it correctly the first time?  How often have you seen anyone install much of anything correctly the first time?  How many people have you seen who actually try to be accountable, take responsibility and are proud of the honest work they do?  (Sadly, I know a lot of people that take far more pride with their dishonest actions.)

If anyone wonders why the Philippines is in the mess it is in, one can start by looking at DepEd, which for YEARS has been downgrading the education quality even though its budget has been steadily increasing while getting away with the lamest of excuses for the continually increasing shortcomings.

DepEd can go for YEARS not delivering learning material, having very questionable invoices, ordering useless items (for instance two bulb solar lighting kits), and when asked by Senate officials how they spent over 300 Billion pesos actually get away with saying “they do not know” (with no serious repercussions).

The things DepEd is teaching our children by their living examples explains a LOT about why our country has among the lowest ratings in all areas of any country on the planet.  Simply put the results we are seeing in our nation is exactly what the Philippine Department of Education is teaching our children, through their actions and inactions.

Are these really the kind of people we want to be responsible for our children’s education and the foundation of their future?

It is time to stand up and say enough is enough.  It is time to start insisting that everyone in DepEd From the lowest to the highest-level do their job honestly and correctly, without excuses, or get out!  

DepEd, we are getting nothing from you now; if you are gone, we can at least start using your salaries to make photocopies of learning material for our children....

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Understanding Angles

While not understanding fractions can become an obstacle in performing well in algebra, a misconception of what angles are can really pull a student behind in geometry. For people who do not have problems with angles, it may sound strange but it is possible that one major stumbling block in achieving proficiency with angles is language. It is as simple as not understanding what the word "angle" really means. In geometry, the word "angle" precisely means one thing. It is a measure of the amount of turn between two lines. It could be acute (The following figures are obtained from MathIsFun):

It could be right:

It could be obtuse:

It could be straight:

It could be reflex:

Or it could be zero, or a complete rotation:

Friday, October 17, 2014

How Much Does It Cost to Raise a Child?

How much raising a child would cost depends of course on where you live. In the United States, the Department of Agriculture (USDA) recently released a report that estimates how much currently rearing a child costs. The numbers range between $12,800 and $14,970 annually. A family of four children should expect to spend less, as the average goes down by about 22% per child, but the numbers are still quite substantial, about $40,000 per year. A family with four children earning an annual household income (before tax) of $60,000 clearly has to exercise tight budgeting.

The following is an infographic from the USDA summarizing the report:

Raising a child from birth to age 18 (before college) costs $245,340. This is the average. Raising a child in a rural area is cheaper, but still requires $193,590. These numbers should not be surprising however. Child care, for example, in Fairfax county costs about $250 per child per week. This alone costs over $10,000 per year. Even with free tuition in public schools, increasing costs in transportation, food, health care, housing, and clothing, can easily replace the costs of daycare (shown in the following graph).

Above copied from Expenditures on Children by Families, 2013
Those who could spend more would naturally spend more on their children. Here are the estimates for children born in 2013 for households at different income levels:

Above copied from Expenditures on Children by Families, 2013
A wealthy family is expected to spend half a million dollars to raise a child from 0 to 17. And that is before college. The total expenditure from birth through college can easily surpass one million dollars. This means that in order to raise two children through college, my household needs to earn at least $2,000,000 in about two decades. (about $100,000 annually) And that is for child support only. These numbers place in a correct perspective what responsible parenting entails.

Comparing against child expenditures in 1960, Americans have only increased child costs by 24 percent.

Above copied from Expenditures on Children by Families, 2013
However, there are dramatic changes regarding where expenses are made. Food has become cheaper because of great improvements in agriculture, but education and child care have increased significantly. It has risen by 800 percent.

The new K+12 curriculum in the Philippines should not be taken as a minor burden on Filipino families. Properly raising and supporting a child requires not only time and effort, but real money. These are real costs, which should be taken into account, especially when the benefits are highly unlikely to be realized.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Basic Education Is Not a Cure for Unemployment

Though it sounds attractive to a lot of people, the suggestion that education is the solution to high unemployment should be taken with a great deal of skepticism. If the reason behind unemployment is lack of skills then the number of jobs available must be high enough to support this hypothesis. The fact is that unemployment is not so much about not being able to fill positions but more about no positions to be filled. Unemployment oftentimes is caused by a low number of jobs available. As Laurence Mishel pointed out in a report published by the Economic Policy Institute, even in the United States, there are college graduates who are unemployed.
Above table copied from
Education is Not the Cure for High Unemployment or for Income Inequality
The employment situation in the Philippines is no exception. It is clearly wrong to suggest that the unemployment is due to some gap in skills. Laborers and unskilled workers comprise the majority of the employed in the Philippines. And according to the National Statistics Office of the Philippines, about one in five of the unemployed is a college graduate.

Therefore, to claim that a new curriculum (DepEd K+12) can cure unemployment is disingenuous. Yet, business leaders in the Philippines seem to continue to tout this fallacy:

Above copied from GMA News
The above news article also attempts to explain how and why the new curriculum could improve the chances of getting employed by citing the case of workers in fast food restaurants. Graduates of the new curriculum apparently are now going to be qualified to flip burgers and sell fries. Such view completely ignores market forces in employment. The fact that these restaurants are hiring college graduates is not because graduates of the old high school curriculum are incapable of unskilled labor. In the United States, the following table summarizes the characteristics of fast food workers:

Above table copied from
Slow Progress for Fast Food Workers
In fact, it is a common misconception that only high school students work at fast food restaurants but this group does comprise about 30 percent of the total workforce. And these teenagers are not paid with lower wages:

Above table copied from 
Slow Progress for Fast Food Workers
College graduates and undergraduates find employment in fast food services not because these positions require a great deal of skills or training but because these college graduates cannot find jobs in their field. Schmitt and Jones at the Center for Economic and Policy Research wrote:
The wage structure for non-teenagers in the industry is almost identical to the overall distribution (the second column in the table above). Older workers in fast-food have little to show for their additional education, age, and experience. 
The majority (53 percent) of workers in fast-food are adults (21 and older) with a high school degree or more, which you would never guess from the way the industry pays.
Clearly, there are other more important reasons why people are unemployed. Lack of skills is unfortunately not the most important one. The reason why there is high unemployment can be as simple as: "There are no jobs".

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Settling the Retention versus Mass Promotion Issue

It was the last fight between Po and Lord Shen. And the last dialogue was about scars:

Lord Shen: "How did you find peace? I took away your parents. Everything. I scarred you for life."
Po: "See, that's the thing, Shen. Scars heal."
Lord Shen: "No, they don't. Wounds heal."
Po: "Oh, yeah. What do scars do? They fade I guess?"
Lord Shen: "I don't care what scars do!"
Po: "You should, Shen. You gotta let go of that stuff from past, 'cause it just doesn't matter! The only thing that matters... is what you choose to be now."

Screen capture from YouTube video
Do scars really fade? Words of wisdom are good and may guide us, but evidence-based research provides us with the facts so that we may act with a tangible basis. 

One intriguing issue in basic education is the question of whether to retain or promote when a child does not meet basic expectations. In a previous article on this blog, "To Retain or Promote: Asking the Right Question", it is demonstrated that research is in fact ambiguous with regard to mass promotion versus retention. A recent study, for instance, shows that retained students in third grade outperform mass promoted students. This is very much in conflict with earlier studies that demonstrate the great harm retention causes. One objection against the older findings is that the studies fail to ask the question of whether promotion would have been better. How can one compare retention versus promotion when choosing one automatically precludes the other? The answer lies in using "matched pairs". This, of course, requires a large volume of data to find something meaningful. Apparently, this has been achieved by Megan Andrew of the University of Notre Dame:

Above abstract copied from
Megan Andrew. The Scarring Effects of Primary-Grade Retention? A Study of Cumulative Advantage in the Educational Career. Social Forces, first published online September 3, 2014 doi:10.1093/sf/sou074
The above study is published in the journal Social Forces. It involves about 9000 students. To match students, several factors which include race, gender, family income, parent's educational attainment, immigration status, IQ scores, are taken into account to predict a measure of likelihood to be retained. And the results are: Children who are retained in primary school are 60 percent less likely to graduate high school than children with similar backgrounds. 

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

How Should We Rate Schools

I did have to pass an exam to get admitted at the Manila Science High School. During my time, I was not the only child coming from a poor family. The school was in fact quite diverse in terms of socio-economic status. Still, even in the star section, there was no achievement gap that was obvious to me. I did not perform a survey at that time though but since I knew my classmates and how we were performing in class, there was no apparent correlation between academic performance and family income. Of course, being admitted to a school with a special science curriculum during that time did not require an aspiring applicant to write an essay that described what topic one might explore in school if given the option. It would be difficult to squeeze from a child from a low income family a well written dream out of nothing.

Basic education unfortunately now depends significantly on a child's background. It is one of the reasons why the achievement gap persists and widens throughout the years of schooling. With shadow education provided by private tutors, extracurricular activities that the poor could not afford, learning resources that are not equally accessible, it becomes close to impossible to achieve equity in education.

In gauging how well a school performs, it is important to look at how much the school actually provides in learning. Doing so means taking into account how all students are performing. Taking one score, an average, often does not reveal the entire picture. This, in essence, is what Ushomirsky, Williams and Hall are pointing out in their recent research brief, "Making Sure All Children Matter":

To appreciate their point, one simply has to look at one of the many examples they provided:

Students in schools that receive recognition (Celebration Eligible) in Minnesota are indeed performing better on average than the schools identified for intervention (Continuous Improvement). However, upon closer examination, students from low income families in these celebrated schools are in fact performing worse or only as better than students from higher income families in the schools identified as troubled. It is not really stellar in terms of "education for all".

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Child Poverty and Basic Education

A video of a boy whose 200 pesos (about 5 US dollars) was taken away by a robber in Caloocan City, Philippines went viral on Facebook:
The boy sells pandesal (salt bread) and the 200 pesos (5 US$) were his earnings that day. Almost 1 million views and one could only imagine the emotions stirred by this video. The fact that the boy was robbed is indeed heartless. However, the fact that the boy has to work for a living at a young age should be equally disturbing. The latest data on child poverty in the Philippines can not hide the real story:

The number of families considered to be living in poverty (In the Philippines, a family living in poverty earns less than 200 pesos (5 US Dollars) per day) has been continuously increasing during the past two decades. There are now more than 4 million families living in poverty. Most of these families have young children.

Above copied from Child Poverty in the Philippines by Celia Reyes, Aubrey Tabuga, Ronina Asisand Maria Blesila Mondez

The numbers are staggering:

  • 13.4 million children (age 18 or younger) are poor.
  • 4 million children do not have access to sanitary toilet facilities.
  • 4 million children do not have access to safe water.
  • 260,000 children severely lacks shelter
  • 1.4 million children are living in informal settlement.
  • 6.5 million children do not have electricity in their homes.
  • 3.4 million children have no access to any information.
  • 5.5 million children are forced to work.

It is therefore not surprising that dropout rates remain very high as families could hardly afford to keep their children in school. The fact that basic education is free does not guarantee that children would be sent to school since schooling still requires allowances, clothing, and learning materials. Dropout rates have increased especially for male students at the secondary level.

Above copied from Child Poverty in the Philippines by Celia Reyes, Aubrey Tabuga, Ronina Asisand Maria Blesila Mondez

The sad part is that children who drop out of school do not necessarily get favorable employment. The figures below for example show that the number of children working is much less than the number of children who are not attending school:

Above copied from Child Poverty in the Philippines by Celia Reyes, Aubrey Tabuga, Ronina Asisand Maria Blesila Mondez
K-12 without doubt adds a tremendous burden on poor families. It challenges families who can not keep their children in school. There is no point in adding two years when children are leaving school starting at age 13. Poverty simply crushes basic education. Society must address poverty first...

Saturday, October 11, 2014

What to Think and How to Know

Yes, it is the old debate regarding what a classroom needs to focus on: content versus skills. This debate must really stop because it is a false dichotomy. We need both. The much more important discussion is how one relates to the other so that the time spent by a child inside the classroom becomes much more worthwhile. Paul Cancellieri, a middle school science teacher, wrote the following in TeachHub.com:

Above copied from TeachHub.com
"Paring down state science standards in favor of more depth and greater comprehension" does not really mean cutting content. Greater depth also means deeper content. Hence, paring down here implies that the old curriculum is a mile wide but only an inch thick. The volume of content is therefore decided not just by the breadth alone but also the depth. Increasing the depth while decreasing the breadth does not necessarily decrease the volume. In fact, it can get bigger, if we make, for instance, the depth 4 times deeper and the breadth only half as much.

In the discussion of content and skills, it may likewise be useful to find out how each one is acquired. For example, how does a child develop scientific thinking (skills) and how does a child acquire scientific knowledge (content)? The previous article on this blog, "Developing Scientific Thinking" offers a clue. Content seems to be taught while skills are caught. A teacher can provide knowledge then through direct instruction while helping a child develop skills by example.

The main reason why content versus skills is a false dichotomy is the fact that these two are related. Determining the relationship between the two, content and skills, is useful for designing a more effective curriculum. One area that has been recently studied is the relationship between vocabulary (content) and reading comprehension (skill). A paper scheduled to be published in Child Development examines how scores in vocabulary and reading comprehension tests vary with years of instruction. The paper, "Developmental Relations Between Vocabulary Knowledge and Reading Comprehension: A Latent Change Score Modeling Study", has the following abstract:

This is a longitudinal study involving about three hundred students from first to fourth grade in elementary schools in the Leon County School District in Florida. By following the vocabulary and reading comprehension scores of the students through four years of elementary schooling the following possible relationships between vocabulary and reading comprehension can be ascertained:

  • Correlated but uncoupled - In this scenario, children develop both vocabulary and reading comprehension at the same time. Growth in both are correlated but not because one causes the other, but because they both rely on an outside third factor.
  • Unidirectional coupling (Vocabulary to Comprehension) - In this scenario, growth in vocabulary leads to better reading comprehension.
  • Unidirectional coupling (Comprehension to Vocabulary) - In this scenario, better reading comprehension leads to growth in vocabulary.
  • Bidirectional coupling - In this scenario, the two, vocabulary and comprehension, work side by side, causing growth in each other.

And as the above abstract states, this study finds a unidirectional coupling (Vocabulary to Comprehension). The authors conclude, "...this study supports the idea that growth in reading comprehension depends in part on vocabulary knowledge." The authors also make it clear that due to the study's limitations, a bidirectional coupling can not be completely dismissed, but it is certain here that content affects skills, providing us with a strong evidence that content versus skills is truly a useless debate.